Southaven Parks’ Marketing Director Reflects on DeSoto Center Tenure

Olivia Craig earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in May

Olivia Craig

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Olivia Craig has been quite busy since graduating from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center -Southaven in May.

Craig, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, immediately landed a job as director of marketing for the city of Southaven’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The department oversees multiple facilities for various sports, including the Snowden Grove Baseball Complex and the city’s new tennis complex. Southaven’s 20 neighborhood parks also fall under the department’s purview.

A large portion of Craig’s job encompasses acquiring sponsorships for Snowden Grove baseball. She is also tasked with building awareness of Southaven’s parks through community events.

“One of my first priorities in this new role was to build relationships,” she said. “I’m involved in all our local chambers and represent Snowden while attending their events.”

Craig even helped organize the swearing in for Mayor Darren Musselwhite in June.

“I love that what I do at my job changes every day,” she said. “Having received the opportunity to welcome back Mayor Musselwhite and the aldermen sworn in that day was one of my favorite moments I’ve experienced thus far.”

Craig has helped the department surpass its fiscal year marketing projections by more than $50,000 since her arrival in May, said Wesley Brown, director of the parks and recreation department.

“Olivia is a remarkable asset and addition to our team,” Brown said. “Our presence in the business community is growing daily because of her efforts. She knows her audience, she is a powerful communicator, she’s a brilliant strategist and she implements our game plan effectively and efficiently.

“It’s evident that Olivia received a first-class education at the University of Mississippi-Desoto.”

Beginning her college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s DeSoto Center in 2012, she took a short break in her sophomore year to determine what the next step in her academic journey should be. She ultimately decided to pursue marketing at the university’s DeSoto Center in fall 2013.

Hailing from Hernando, Craig felt at home at the DeSoto Center.

“I fell in love with the campus,” she said. “Not only did it feel like home because it was in DeSoto County, but I also received a number of scholarships that worked to my advantage.”

Craig received support from her peers, as well as faculty and staff at the facility.

“I love Dr. Rachel Smith (assistant professor of marketing),” Craig said. “I took her for four or five classes. She is genuinely so interested in her students and so nice.”

Pat Coats, UM-DeSoto’s coordinator of academic support services, also positively influenced Craig during her time at the campus by inviting her to her office for words of encouragement.

Like many of her fellow students, Craig worked throughout her time at the campus. She ultimately learned about Southaven’s marketing position through networking at her job at Lucky Brand. With a freshly earned degree, she was the perfect candidate.

Craig credits UM-DeSoto for her degree and her success as a young professional.

“I can’t brag on the DeSoto campus enough,” Craig said. “It was such a great opportunity for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”

UM-DeSoto Graduate’s Career Soars

Alumna manages inventory accounting for Endeavor Air

Heather Gatzke

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – After earning her degree in finance from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Heather Gatzke’s career has reached great heights.

The 2011 graduate works for Endeavor Air as a manager of inventory accounting. Her journey with the airline began while she was still in school at UM-DeSoto.

“While I attended UM-DeSoto, I worked for Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines as an aircraft parts buyer,” Gatzke said. “About six weeks before I graduated, a financial analyst position opened and I applied. I was offered the position and started in early September of 2011.”

From there, Gatzke began to climb the corporate ladder at Pinnacle, which became Endeavor Air after being purchased by Delta Air Lines.

“In May 2013, Delta relocated our corporate offices to Minneapolis,” she said. “Prior to the relocation, I was offered the position of manager of revenue, which I held until January of 2016, when I transitioned to the manager of inventory accounting.”

With initial plans to attend pharmacy school, Gatzke hadn’t always considered a degree in finance. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she experienced the deaths of two grandparents and an uncle.

Gatzke made the difficult decision to take a break from school and reevaluate her goals.

By the time she was ready to go back to school, UM-DeSoto officially offered the finance program. She was able to take advantage of the 2+2 partnership with NWCC.

“Through research and lengthy discussions with friends, I decided that the degree in finance from Ole Miss was the best fit for me,” Gatzke said.

Gatzke thrived in the finance program. She said the material she learned was excellent in terms of its application to the real world. She became close to faculty mentors, one of which was clinical assistant professor of finance Lynn Kugele.

Her professors had “very high expectations” and were “eager to share their knowledge,” she said.

Gatzke said she was honored to earn the Outstanding Graduate in Finance designation that year.

“My entire academic career was as a nontraditional student, attending classes at night, on weekends and online,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to obtain a certain GPA. All I did for three years was go to work during the day and go to class at night. If I wasn’t at class I was studying or doing homework.

“Graduating summa cum laude was already enough of an honor. It just proves how hard work and dedication can pay off.”

Kugele applauds both Gatzke’s academic and career successes.

“Heather is easily one of the most outstanding finance students we have had at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” she said. “Her career path upon graduating is exactly what we hope will happen for our graduates: a move into the field of their choice and continued opportunities to move up.

“The combination of Heather’s work ethic and an Ole Miss finance degree gave her the credentials she needed to start that move up the corporate ladder. Though Heather is in Minneapolis now, we have kept in touch and get to visit in person when she comes home to visit family.”

Gatzke encourages other students to consider pursuing a finance degree and a “quality education” at UM-DeSoto. She plans to further her education by pursuing an MBA in the future.

For more information about finance and the University of Mississippi’s regional campus in Southaven, visit

UM-DeSoto to Host Informational Events for NWCC Students

Regional campus staff aims to assist students with enrollment in a bachelor's degree program

UM-DeSoto partners with Northwest Mississippi Community College to help students finish their bachelor’s degrees. The campus is hosting two events in March to assist students with the enrollment process. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Northwest Mississippi Community College students who plan to transfer into a University of Mississippi bachelor’s degree-completion program are invited to two upcoming events at the university’s Southaven regional campus.

The first event, 2+2 Transfer Day, is slated for 10 a.m.-noon and 3-5 p.m. March 8 in the lobby of the NWCC DeSoto Center at 5197 W.E. Ross Parkway. Students will have a chance to sit down with advisers from all the campus’ degree programs, visit with financial aid and admissions staff, and enjoy refreshments while they are helped through the enrollment process.

“Transferring can be overwhelming, and 2+2 Transfer Day aims to simplify it,” said Blake Bostick, admissions counselor for the regional campus. “The event is a ‘one-stop shop’ for students to learn about degree programs, financial aid, admissions and anything else they need to know about transferring to the University of Mississippi-DeSoto.”

Additionally, during NWCC’s spring break, students can take advantage of “Catch a Break.” For one week only, application fees are waived for students who complete an admissions application for the UM-DeSoto campus.

To participate in Catch a Break, students should visit the main office at the DeSoto Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week of March 13-17, meet with an admissions counselor to go over their transcript, and complete an application for summer or fall 2017.

“By attending these events, we hope students will gain a better understanding of the opportunities available at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” Bostick said.

NWCC graduating sophomores, as well as freshmen, are encouraged to attend both events. For more details or for general information about UM-DeSoto, visit

Overstreet-Miller Joins DeSoto Campus as IMC Instructor

New full-time faculty member brings extensive experience in public relations, marketing

Patricia Overstreet-Miller

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven has hired a full-time faculty member to strengthen its integrated marketing communications program.

Patricia Overstreet-Miller, who began working at the regional campus this spring as an IMC instructor, has an expansive career in communications, including public relations, marketing, advertising and lobbying. At the corporate level, Overstreet-Miller has worked for companies such as Allstate, Options Clearing Corp, Zurich Insurance and the McCormick Foundation.

IMC is one of the fastest-growing programs at Ole Miss. The program, housed under the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, includes the study of advertising, public relations, brand management and research into consumer insights, enabling students to build a customized toolbox of professional skills.

An IMC degree offers a myriad of benefits, Overstreet-Miller said.

“IMC opens doors to a world that can take you to so many diverse experiences that can be rewarding both financially and in terms of personal growth,” she said. “It’s never boring and the growth potential is amazing.

“Most executives value communication skills, and the unique communicator who has the integrated approach to and understanding of communication is particularly valuable. While we all have to start at the beginning and work our way up, IMC can be a real leg up in a competitive world.”

Overstreet-Miller plans to share her experience in community relations, government relations, investor relations, employee communications and media relations with her students. She also hopes to connect IMC students at UM-DeSoto with their peers at the university’s Oxford and Tupelo campuses to share learning and experiences.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, Overstreet-Miller leveraged her interest in language and in people to become a communications professional. After earning a graduate degree in marketing and finance, she became a nontraditional student pursuing a Master of Business Administration.

The latter experience gave her a special understanding of many at the Southaven campus, she said.

“Many of our DeSoto students are older, already working and bring with them unique life experiences,” she said. “That can make their learning opportunity particularly rewarding.

“Since I went back to school for an MBA in the middle of my own career, when I had young children, I know that it’s a challenge to balance school with other life responsibilities. But it’s also a chance to create new opportunities in a career that’s already started, or to make a shift to a new career direction.”

Rick Gregory, executive director of UM-DeSoto, sees great potential for the program with Overstreet-Miller’s guidance.

“We are incredibly excited about Patricia joining our team and also about growing the integrated marketing communications program on our campus,” Gregory said. “With so many large corporations, businesses and nonprofits in close proximity to Southaven, our IMC students have unique advantages in terms of internship opportunities.”

Overstreet-Miller agrees that there are numerous opportunities ahead.

“The University of Mississippi is one of a handful of great schools offering an IMC program,” Overstreet-Miller said. “Our students are fortunate to have this opportunity, and I feel lucky to be a part of what our school is building.”

For more information about the IMC program and UM-DeSoto, visit

Schools Look to DeSoto Writing Center for Insight

Faculty and staff offer advice, resources for development of middle and high school centers

Josh Green (right), director of Independence High School’s writing center, oversees a tutoring session with students Josh Figures and Martasia Copeland. Green reached out to the University of Mississippi – DeSoto Writing Center for resources and ideas. Submitted Photo

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – As director of the Writing Center at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Jeanine Rauch sees the value of honing writing skills early.

“Ultimately, writing is clear thinking,” said Rauch, an instructor in the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “When students are confident in their own writing, the writing process becomes more focused on audience and purpose, which leads to clear communication.”

The Writing Center at the UM regional campus offers free services designed to help students become stronger writers and critical thinkers. Teachers from DeSoto and Tate counties recently visited the center to glean ideas for creating and developing writing centers at their respective schools.

“Incorporating a middle school or high school writing center introduces the importance of writing and helps students become more aware and connected to their own writing,” Rauch said. “Peers helping peers allows for a collaborative conversation through the writing process.”

Robert Cummings, chair of the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, said that Rauch’s leadership at the writing center “knows no bounds.”

“(Rauch) has long been of great service to her students, the students of the University of Mississippi, and to students at Northwest Mississippi Community College,” Cummings said. “Not content with this level of contribution, she is now extending opportunities for designing supplemental peer literacy instruction to her partners in the K-12 environment.

“Her work is truly exceptional and exemplifies the best work of writing centers on a national level.”

Tarra R. Taylor, English teacher and writing center director at Hernando Middle School, met with Rauch this summer.

“Teaching writing is a passion that I have,” Taylor said. “So, in an attempt to do what I love to do, I wanted to offer something to my school that would not only benefit the students that I teach but also the entire student body.”

Taylor began by reading and researching writing centers in colleges and secondary schools.

“Jeanine and her team of consultants were more than welcoming and helpful,” she said. “They informed me of how their writing center was run and offered me suggestions for the middle school level.”

The DeSoto Writing Center team provided Taylor with a number of resources, including “The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors,” a sample writing center feedback survey, a tutor script and relevant articles. Rauch and one of the center’s consultants even accompanied Taylor when she presented the idea to faculty at Hernando Middle School.

Many students enter middle school with “negative attitudes toward writing,” Taylor said. This could stem from a lack of confidence or limited writing skills, she said.

“When the confidence level of students is built, students will want to write more,” she said. “In turn, writing achievement will be positively affected.

“The end goal is for students to become effective written communicators. They will write for a plethora of purposes and audiences; therefore, writing skills are important in order for them to be successful at it.”

The Hernando Middle School Writing Center launched Nov. 14. Taylor is confident that the center will make an impact on her students.

Josh Green, English teacher and writing center director at Independence High School, also recently met with Rauch. Green’s writing center began in 2014 under the direction of Jason Jones, the writing center director at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

When Green was named director, he began investigating new ways to develop the center.

“As a teacher consultant for the University of Mississippi Writing Project, I know firsthand the quality work that Ole Miss does within the field of writing,” Green said. “I knew that (Rauch’s) work with the writing center could provide critical insight and perspective for us. Jeanine and the writing center staff members were extremely helpful and personally met with us. “

This year, Independence High School’s center has served some 20 students so far.

“They have shown significant improvement and most have now visited more than once, which is exciting for us,” he said. “We love the fact that students are beginning to feel comfortable and continue to come back. Some of them have even become our biggest recruiters.”

Green recognizes the role that writing plays in student success.

“Writing is a vital skill that essentially permeates all academic disciplines and endeavors,” he said. “Whether it is at the elementary, secondary, post-secondary or corporate level, writing is a key component in succeeding in any field.

“Writing is not a vacuum skill that is applicable and/or useful only to students pursuing an English degree or a career in technical writing, but rather it is something that is used in practical facets of life such as: resume writing, surveys, engineering field reports, research proposals, etc.”

Rauch encourages schools to consider the development of a writing center.

“Writing centers create both a learning and collaborative space where students help each other improve upon their writing skills,” she said. “Students who frequent a writing center become more engaged with their own writing which leads to finding their own unique voice.”

For more information about UM-DeSoto’s writing center, visit

Student Continues Education, Cares for Mother Recovering from Cancer

Matt Waldrup hopes to attend law school after receiving degree from UM DeSoto Center

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the University of Mississippi - DeSoto’s Graduation Celebration on May 3.

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the UM DeSoto Center’s graduation celebration on May 3.

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Matt Waldrup can think of one person who wants to see him graduate more than anyone: his mom.

“Ever since I was little, she always said, ‘I just want to see you grow up, finish your education and be happy,'” said Waldrup, a Memphis native who is finishing his final semester at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center in Southaven. “So not only is this my dream, it’s hers also. Soon we will both be seeing things that we have wanted our entire lives.”

Waldrup, who is set to receive a Bachelor of General Studies on Saturday (May 14), has been caring for his mother since she was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2009. That was the summer that Waldrup planned to enroll as a freshman at the University of Mississippi‘s main campus in Oxford.

The diagnosis was a heartbreaking blow for Waldrup, whose father died of brain cancer just two years before.

“All responsibilities of a husband, of a son, of a caretaker – they fell on me,” he said. “It was very scary because I was still what I would consider a young age. My mom had to endure a lot of treatments, surgeries, etc., and being there alone was hard.”

Two years into his mother’s treatment, Waldrup returned to school. He received an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014 before enrolling at the university’s DeSoto regional campus. Waldrup, who also works in Southaven, said that his education “would not be possible” without the convenience of having a campus close to home.

Through his major, Waldrup is minoring in psychology, legal studies and English. Kacy Dixon, academic adviser for general studies majors, encouraged Waldrup during his time at Ole Miss.

“Matt has a lot of perseverance,” Dixon said. “I am proud of him for making it this far. Even when he has setbacks, he picks up and keeps going. It takes a lot of character to tackle those types of responsibilities at such a young age.”

One of Waldrup’s proudest moments during his time at the DeSoto campus was when he realized that he couldn’t go it alone.

“I’ve always been a person who has said, ‘Matt, just do it yourself,'” he said. “‘You don’t have time for your own feelings. You have to put your mom and school first.’ I’ve realized that I’m important also. Reaching out to my counselor, Mr. Brian Adams, and getting the help I needed from Ole Miss was a proud moment for me.”

Counseling services at the university have been essential to Waldrup’s success, he said. Though his mother is still battling severe complications from radiation treatment, he is determined to stay optimistic.

“Even though it has been a struggle, I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I just give it my best every day. Whether it’s school, whether it’s work or at home – no matter what situation I’m in – I give it my best. That’s what I’ve learned. If you try your best, something good will come of it.”

Through the ups and downs of Waldrup’s daily life, he said he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.

“I’ve realized that there are so many people supporting me,” he said. “One of my friends even started a GoFundMe page called ‘Mercy for Matt.’ It is really overwhelming to witness this outpouring of kindness.”

Waldrup wishes to pay it forward by encouraging students who might be in similar situations.

“Never give up, give it your best, count your blessings and don’t look at what’s wrong in your life, but what’s good,” he said. “If you don’t feel that you can do that, then seek some help. Help can always get you to another place like it did me, though I’m still a working progress. With this campus and university, I’ve learned that you aren’t alone.”

After he receives his degree, Waldrup plans to attend law school when the timing is right. Dixon said she looks forward to seeing what Waldrup’s future holds.

“I’m excited to celebrate with Matt and his mom at Commencement,” she said. “It will be a special time.”

Top Nontraditional Students Join Alpha Sigma Lambda

Nearly 20 DeSoto Center scholars inducted at ceremony

Nearly 20 students were inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda at the University of Mississippi’s Southaven campus.

Nearly 20 students were inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda at the University of Mississippi’s regional campus in Southaven.

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society recently inducted 18 seniors into the organization.

“It is an honor to recognize these outstanding students and welcome them into Alpha Sigma Lambda,” said Rick Gregory, executive director of the regional campus. “They are a great representation of UM-DeSoto’s dedication to excellence in academics.”

Alpha Sigma Lambda was established in the mid-1940s to honor adult students who, while adroitly handling their life responsibilities, achieve and maintain high scholastic standards. The organization has more than 300 chapters nationwide.

Rachel Smith, assistant professor of marketing and local ASL chapter adviser, congratulated the students at the April 19 induction ceremony.

“This celebration is about you – the best and the brightest, the hardest workers, the curve setters, the deep thinkers, the ringers in the classroom,” Smith said. “Universities brag a lot about their faculty, their rankings and even physical facilities, but at the end of the day we are ultimately judged by the quality of our graduates.

“We are only as good as what we produce – and that’s you. You are what matters most at this great university. You are our legacy and our building of a better future.”

A complete list of inductees, as well as their hometowns and majors, is as follows:

  • Cathy Adams, Southaven, Spanish
  • Meshia Brown, Holly Springs, social work
  • Wanda Carney, Hernando, English
  • Dianne Carpenter, Southaven, general studies
  • Kelsey Clark, Hernando, elementary education
  • Rhonda Cook, Holly Springs, general studies
  • Elainna Ferrell, Hernando, general studies
  • Megan Hyland, Randolph, social work
  • Anna Lunati, Memphis, Tennessee, marketing
  • McKinley McCarty, Southaven, paralegal studies
  • Karen Moore, Senatobia, elementary education
  • Jessica Salmon, Hernando, social work
  • Darla Shuford, Olive Branch, general studies
  • Lauren Stephens, Southaven, elementary education
  • Kendria Strowder, Walls, social work
  • Chance Thweatt, Horn Lake, criminal justice
  • Lynda Witherington, Byhalia, general studies
  • Shanika Young, Southaven, elementary education

Housed in the DeSoto Center in Southaven, the DeSoto regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit or call 662-342-4765.

DeSoto Campus Students Honored with Taylor Medals

School of Education seniors land university's highest academic award

Yasmin Ali Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Yasmin Ali. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Two seniors at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven have been awarded the Marcus Taylor Memorial Medal. Yasmin Ali and Lauren Carson, both elementary education majors, accepted their medals April 7 during the Spring Honors Day Convocation at the Oxford campus.

The Taylor Medals, established in 1904, are the university’s highest academic award and recognize no more than 1 percent of the student body each year. To be considered, a student must have a GPA of at least 3.90.

“I know I speak for all of our faculty and staff when I say that we are so proud of Yasmin and Lauren,” said Rick Gregory, executive director of the Southaven campus. “The Taylor Medal is indicative of dedication and hard work in the classroom. We are pleased to have two recipients from UM-DeSoto this year.”

Ali was born in Staten Island, New York, but moved shortly thereafter to Palestine, where she became fluent in Arabic. She returned to the U.S. when she was in third grade, where a teacher changed her life.

“I did not speak English at that time,” she said. “My third-grade teacher was so caring and supportive – I will never forget her. She thought I could do anything. She gave me the same expectations as everyone else, and I did not feel left out. I aspire to be like her when I get my own classroom.”

Graduating a year early from high school, Ali attended Northwest Community College and received an Associate of Arts degree in 2014. She then enrolled at UM-DeSoto to pursue a degree in education.

Throughout her time at the Ole Miss regional campus, Ali has enjoyed working for the Writing Center. The center provides free writing and critical thinking support to students of all majors.

“(Working for the center) gives me the opportunity to help so many diverse students such as nontraditional students, English language learners and students with disabilities,” she said. “Working with students allowed me to share my knowledge and skills during my tutorial sessions.

“Along with tutoring, presenting with other writing consultants has helped me become an effective communicator and collaborator.”

Not only has the experience helped Ali hone her skills, but it has also provided her with close friends. She said she loves working in an environment where the goal is to “help people become better writers and learners.”

Lauren Carson Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Lauren Carson. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

An Independence native, Carson never expected to end up as an education major.

“My whole family is full of teachers, so growing up I said I would never become one,” Carson said. “I started college as an interior design major and ended up changing my major to education the end of my sophomore year. I love it and haven’t turned back. Teaching is something that I am passionate about.”

Graduating with an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014, Carson has “loved every minute” of her time at the regional campus, specifically mentioning the convenience of its location and helpful faculty and staff.

“Looking back on my time at UM-Desoto, the main thing that sticks out to me is the classroom in which I completed 99 percent of my class time,” she said. “Education majors take most of their classes in the same room. I remember walking in for the first time and being so nervous.

“I met so many amazing people in that classroom, and so many relationships were formed in that room. I know I will be friends with those people for the rest of my life.”

Carson said that it was “unbelievable” to be presented with the university’s highest honor.

“There are so many amazing students at the university,” she said. “Being able to be recognized with those students was an unforgettable experience. I am so thankful.”

After graduation, Carson plans to begin her teaching career. Ali also hopes to teach elementary school and pursue her master’s in education. Both Ali and Carson credit their families for love and support during their years at the university.

Housed in the DeSoto Center in Southaven, the regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit or call 662-342-4765.

UM-DeSoto Student Wins Highest Award from Legal Studies Department

McKinley McCarty recognized for academics, service

McKinley McCarty

McKinley McCarty

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Though emailing in class is generally frowned upon, McKinley McCarty hoped for an exception when she learned that she had won the Columbus B. Hopper Scholarship.

“I just couldn’t sit there and contain my excitement,” said McCarty, a senior paralegal studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven. “As soon as I received an email about the award from the chair, I had to send one back. I copied my professor, so he knew that I sent it during class.”

The Hopper Scholarship is the Department of Legal Studies’ highest honor. Recipients are full-time legal studies majors who are classified as seniors and have obtained at least a 3.75 GPA. The $1,250 scholarship honors Columbus Burwell Hopper, professor emeritus of sociology, who died in 2015.

An Iuka native, McCarty is a full-time student and full-time employee.

“I am definitely a nontraditional student,” she said. “I am 28 – I did not start college until seven years after graduating high school. I entered the workforce and soon realized that I needed to do something else with my life. I wanted to advance my options and my knowledge.”

Before pursuing a degree in legal studies, McCarty worked for a small law firm in downtown Memphis, assisting attorneys with domestic law matters, bankruptcies, foreclosures and third-party collections.

She continued to work for the firm while attending Northwest Mississippi Community College. She received her paralegal studies associate degree in 2014 and enrolled at UM-DeSoto that fall. She then began working for Olive Branch’s city attorney.

“I have held a 9-to-5 job for all five years I’ve been in school,” McCarty said. “I attend night classes. This is my sixth year of being in the legal field and fifth year of education in the legal field. I believe that my work experience has served as an advantage during my studies.”

Not only does McCarty excel in her studies, but also she is passionate about service and honor societies. She made it a point to take advantage of any opportunities that came her way, taking part in Gamma Beta Phi, Phi Theta Kappa, Lambda Epsilon Chi and, most recently, Phi Kappa Phi.

“I was afraid of not having a ‘traditional’ college experience,” she said. “I quickly learned that there are so many opportunities to get involved at UM-DeSoto and the main campus as well. Through Gamma Beta Phi, I drove down to Oxford in early April to participate in their largest service event. I really have enjoyed opportunities like those.”

Faculty and staff at the UM regional campus are like family, McCarty said.

“Everyone is so close here,” she said. “The staff have pointed me in the right direction. They’ve helped guide me to make better choices. Pat Coats (UM-DeSoto coordinator of academic support services) has been so influential. She wants you to get the most out of this experience that you possibly can.”

McCarty is thankful for support from Robert Mongue, associate professor of legal studies, who nominated her for the award.

“I’ve had Professor Mongue throughout the two years that I’ve been at Ole Miss,” she said. “He isn’t afraid to put me on the spot – I even taught one of our recent classes. Dr. Mongue didn’t get to where he is today by just scraping by. That rubbed off on me and I now expect more for myself.”

Mongue said he was impressed with McCarty’s dedication to her studies.

“McKinley has obtained a high GPA while taking classes, sometimes alone, through compressed video from our Southaven campus,” he said. “She maintained the focus necessary to obtain good grades and engage in class participation while staring at a monitor and buzzing into the discussion via the desk microphones.”

When thinking about what the award means to her, McCarty said it is hard to put her feelings into words.

“I don’t take anything for granted, no matter how small or how big,” she said. “Out of all the students who qualified and were eligible for this award, I’m not sure what made me stand out.

“The only thing I can compare it to is when you find out something so joyous and you feel unworthy, you cry. That was my first reaction. It was a moment where I realized that everything that I’d been doing and struggling for is paying off.”

After graduation, McCarty said she plans to take a year to pursue personal goals and then continue her studies, possibly by attending law school.

Housed in the DeSoto Center in Southaven, the regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit or call 662-342-4765.

Mother of Five ‘Pursues Dreams’ at UM DeSoto Campus

Cheryl Scott slated to graduate in May with bachelor's in elementary education

Cheryl Scott

Cheryl Scott

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Cheryl Scott is no stranger to hard work. A student in the elementary education program at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Scott is finishing her degree while also caring for her five children.

“It has been extremely challenging,” Scott said. “I have to balance my time studying and working on assignments with spending time with my husband and kids.”

Scott is on track to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She is interested in teaching in an inclusion classroom, which includes children in the special education program as well as regular education students.

During her time at the UM regional campus, Scott worked as a special education assistant at Hernando Middle School.

“I will be dually certified in special education when I graduate,” she said. “My professors understand that most teachers will have students with disabilities of some sort in their classrooms and believe it would be an advantage for education majors to be knowledgeable in how to meet the needs of all students.”

The ability to make a difference in the lives of students was a driving force for Scott. Even more so, however, was the encouragement of her children, Morghan, 16, Halle, 13, Landon, 12, Jacob, 9, and Jaiden, 8, as well as her husband Michael.

“Sometimes it was hard, especially for my younger children, to understand why I couldn’t be there or do things with them,” she said. “They knew I was very busy but that it wouldn’t be for long. Knowing that I was so close to being finished with all this hard work helped them to be patient.”

It has been a long road for Scott. She first attended Northwest Community College the summer of her high school graduation in 1999. After marrying the following October, she immediately started a family.

Cheryl Scott’s family encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree in education.

Cheryl Scott’s family encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree in education.

“I had three children and was pregnant with my fourth by the time I graduated,” she said. “It took me six years to complete my associate degree. That took a lot of patience and determination. I had one more child after graduation and decided to stay home with the kids until they were old enough to attend school.”

All of Scott’s kids were enrolled in school in 2014, so she decided it was time to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“UM-Desoto was the obvious choice,” she said. “It was convenient, and I knew that the University of Mississippi would be an excellent school from which to obtain my degree.”

Amber Carpenter-McCullough, assistant professor of teacher education, supported Scott during her time at UM-DeSoto.

“Throughout the duration of the courses in which I was fortunate to have her as a student, Cheryl actively participated and provided insight to our class discussion,” Carpenter-McCullough said. “Although Cheryl has had to continue to be a wife, a parent and an employee, her continued devotion to college illustrates her personal strength and resilience. I believe that Cheryl has demonstrated that she will not only make an impact on students in her K-12 classes, but that she will also excel as a teacher.”

Scott said she learned how capable she was while taking classes at the DeSoto campus. At times, she questioned if she was neglecting family obligations and even if she was smart enough to complete the coursework.

“By being a good example and working hard, I realized I was being a good mother,” she said. “By working hard, being persistent and giving it my all, I realized I was smart enough to do what needed to be done. I learned so much about myself.”

Scott said many of her classmates have families and work, which is why the location of the regional campus is so pivotal.

“The UM-DeSoto campus makes it possible for us to have the opportunity to pursue our dreams and excel in areas we never thought possible,” she said.

Scott, who hopes to teach for a year and then enroll in graduate school, has some advice for those who are thinking about furthering their education.

“It won’t be easy; it will be hard work,” she said. “It will take time; it won’t happen overnight. However, you will meet classmates who will become lifelong friends and professors with contagious passion.

“You will be challenged, and sometimes you will think there’s no way you will succeed. Don’t lose heart, don’t lose faith and remember why you started the journey. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish once you put your mind to it.”

Housed in the DeSoto Center, the regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit or call 662-342-4765.